Public Transit Limitations a Barrier for People with Disabilities

Public Transit Limitations a Barrier for People with Disabilities

Public Transit Limitations a Barrier for People with Disabilities
Gordie Felger

(Cedar Rapids)—Kristen Aller doesn’t drive.  It’s not for lack of wanting to.  In fact, she dreams of driving a red 1966 Mustang convertible “with the horse on the doors, the front and the back of the car” or possibly a red Volkswagen Beetle.

Aller, 34, of Cedar Rapids, doesn’t drive due to a neurological condition called tuberous sclerosis complex.  Aller’s TSC, while a relatively mild case, resulted in an ongoing seizure disorder, disqualifying her from obtaining a driver’s license.  Like many people with disabilities, Aller says that one of the biggest challenges of day-to-day life is transportation.

Aller lives a semi-independent life in her NewBo neighborhood apartment.  She volunteers with several organizations, such as Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance, Jaycees (Junior Chamber), Toastmasters and Theatre Cedar RapidsIowa Governor Terry Branstad appointed Aller to the board of Statewide Independent Living Councils in 2012.  She travels to the quarterly meetings in Des Moines.  This active lifestyle means that she depends on family, friends and sometimes public transportation to get where she wants to go.

“About the only thing I cannot do is drive,” Aller said.  “It can be annoying probably more than anything just having to wait for somebody to come help you get to where you want to be.”

Several transportation services exist for Linn County residents, but not all are useful for people with only a mild disability, like Aller.  Taxis and Uber provide quick, point-to-point rides, but become expensive when used on a regular basis.  Many services run only during limited hours and some require a 24-hour advance booking, making them less than ideal in terms of availability and convenience.  Aller tried using the city bus system, but found that she sometimes missed her stop due to seizures, which occur at any time with little or no warning.   She used a subsidized program through Century Cab that provided $5 rides for people with disabilities, but government funding for that program ended.

“I get around with family, friends, sometimes Uber, if it’s not going to be too steep of a cost, cabs,” Aller said, “but nothing would make me more happy than just grabbing the keys, hopping in the car and getting what I forgot at the store, or grab the keys, go and meet a friend for coffee.”

Tom and Kathleen Aller of rural Cedar Rapids, Aller’s parents, remain a significant part of her transportation network.

“Usually one of us takes [Kristen] some place three to six times a week,” Kathleen Aller said.  “Sometimes it’s both ways, but sometimes another volunteer where she is will pick her up and take her home.  That’s because she’s an adult and can do networking.”

Mr. and Mrs. Aller, both retired, often drive Aller to weekday appointments when her own friends work.  When not available to drive her, the Allers arrange rides for their daughter with their close friends or give her money for taxi fares.

“We’ve just worked it into our lifestyle, because we’re probably in town five times a day anyway,” Tom Aller said.  “It really isn’t that big a deal.  [Kristen] doesn’t drive.  It’s just something you accept and it becomes part of your life.”

Aller said that her downtown residential location gives her a sense of independence as she can walk to destinations like NewBo City Market, her bank, restaurants, the public library and Theater Cedar Rapids.  However, walking with a seizure disorder comes with its own risks.  During Aller’s absence seizures—formerly called petit mal seizures—she becomes unresponsive to outside stimuli and generally immobile.  Her seizures last from a few seconds to several minutes and sometimes occur in clusters.  Kathleen Aller pointed to potentially dangerous situations in the past when her daughter had a seizure while crossing a street or a parking lot and was unable to move.  Better seizure control for Aller in recent years lessens—but does not eliminate—this threat.

Kathleen Aller, who feels that the greatest barriers of current transportation services to people with disabilities include high cost and the inconvenience of using them, stated her idea for improvement.

“It would be a great research project to identify needs and to present a scenario for the community to become a part of helping people as opposed to just the family or just the person who has the need,” she said.

Tom Aller said of current transportation services, “If you don’t drive, you need a support system . . . for those that don’t have a support system, [transportation is] a very expensive proposition.”

Sloane Henry, Eastern Iowa service coordinator of the Epilepsy Foundation of North/Central Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, works daily to provide services to people with epilepsy.

Henry said of public transportation services, “the modes of transportation might be too costly, too irregular, or inaccessible to the individual.  For instance, an individual whose employment schedule is not during traditional work hours may not be able to use the public transit system to get to work.  A cab or Uber ride may be too expensive for the individual, or due to certain physical disabilities, utilizing a car or cab service is not feasible.

“Setting up van shares, providing more buses or trains that are accessible and inexpensive, and agencies providing transportation or reimbursement for transportation are just a few of the ways to address the issue,” Henry said.  “More needs to be done so that transportation is no longer a barrier for people living with disabilities.”


Aller wants to see LIFTS of Linn County, or a similar inexpensive transportation option, expand into Johnson County.  She knows of Cedar Rapids residents whose primary physicians practice at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.  Those individuals would benefit from such an inter-county transit system.

Kathleen Aller said that her daughter advocates well for her own rights and needs.  She learned to speak up for herself because she had to.  Since traveling to Des Moines last March for Epilepsy Advocacy Day at the Capitol to tell Iowa legislators her story, Aller now seeks ways to advocate for the rights of others with disabilities.

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Coe Writing Center Consultants Offer Free Writing Help, Candy

Coe Writing Center Consultants Offer Free Writing Help, Candy

Coe Writing Center Consultants Offer Free Writing Help, Candy
Gordie Felger

(Cedar Rapids)—Quotations about writing wrap around the entrance to the Coe Writing Center.  Inside, smiles and a jar of colorful hard candies welcome visitors.

“When people come in, they can have free Jolly Ranchers,” said Jane Nesmith, director of the Writing Center and assistant professor of rhetoric at Coe College.

While Jolly Rancher candies play an advertised part in the Writing Center’s culture—even mentioned on the center’s website—the approximately 60 Writing Center student employees—called “consultants”—provide fellow students with something considerably more valuable.  Consultants offer about 86 hours of free writing assistance and other services per week.  Nesmith said that she administers the center, but the consultants provide most of the services and coordinate the center’s activities as a team.

Reilly Mathieu (‘20), a molecular biology and creative writing major, typically spends about six hours per week in the Writing Center.  She cited working with the students who use the Writing Center as her favorite part of the job.

“They ask some really good questions,” Mathieu said.  “I was working with an ESL (English as a Second Language) student last week and they were asking me questions that I hadn’t thought about asking before.  It was really eye-opening being able to see other viewpoints.”

Mathieu clarified why she and her fellow Writing Center employees use the term “consultant.”

“We’re consultants—we’re not tutors . . . we don’t know everything,” she said.

Consultants commonly engage Writing Center visitors in one-on-one conversations about writing projects.  A student writer may make an appointment or may drop in during the center’s open hours to meet with a consultant.  Consultants provide help with brainstorming ideas, revising and editing.  Both class and non-class writing projects may be discussed during a consultation, which usually lasts from 20 to 60 minutes.

“It’s peers helping peers and we really feel like that’s one of our strengths,” Nesmith said.   “I think the students kind of like the opportunity to talk to somebody who’s not a professor about their writing.  Through conversation, new ideas can emerge and students can see what they’ve written from another person’s eyes.  It’s that interaction that really creates good writing.”

The Writing Center staff hires about 15 new employees each year with the goal of maintaining a pool of 60 consultants.  For most, the hiring process begins with a fellowship competition.  Nesmith and her team coordinate with Coe admissions personnel to identify top performing high school seniors, then invite those identified to attend Scholars Weekend.  At that time, the candidates meet with current consultants to write essays and to talk about writing.  The current consultants then determine which candidates they feel fit into the Writing Center culture.

“A lot of students say that the reason they decided to come to Coe is that they participated in our fellowship competition and were actually offered a fellowship from it,” Nesmith said.

However, Nesmith also may hire a few sophomores each year—these students identified with the aid of their First-Year Seminar instructors.  She hired four sophomores this year.

Up to four consultants staff the Writing Center at any one time.  Nesmith explained these positions and the name given each one.

The Beaver—from the expression “busy beaver”—greets guests and tracks appointments.  The Frog “hops in” to conduct a consultation once the Beaver has greeted and signed in the writer.  The Hippo and the Sloth may appear lazy, but pick up the next consultations when the Frog is busy.  The consultants plan a rotating schedule to prevent any one person from working in the same position time after time.

“I don’t know who came up with those names, but they illustrate the quirky imaginations of writing consultants,” Nesmith said.

Consultants sometimes spend time outside the Writing Center.  Some experienced consultants work with the professor and the students of a First-Year Seminar class on writing projects and occasionally give classroom presentations.  Consultants also work some of their hours at the library coffee shop.

Allison Carr (‘05), a Writing Center consultant from 2002 to 2005, now holds the position of assistant professor of rhetoric at Coe.

“I sought out work in the Writing Center because, by the end of my first year at Coe, most of my friends turned out to be people who worked there,” Carr said.  “I associated the place with ‘my people,’ people who I wanted to be around and learn from, people who were intellectually curious, who enjoyed school and learning, who liked to think about big ideas and problems.”

Carr spoke of the evolution of the Writing Center’s culture from then to now.

“There was a perception back then that the Writing Center staff were elitist and exclusionary, and though that impression was certainly not the intention of the place, I know that we had that reputation for a reason,” she said.  “Over the years, I think the consultants and associated faculty have shed themselves of that reputation.  At its core, though, the writing center remains what it always intended to be—a resource for students of all abilities to talk about and get help with their writing.”

As a professor, Carr said, “I either require or strongly recommend my students to use the Writing Center every time they have something due for me . . . the total process and creation of writing is grounded in the social, in community.  The Writing Center aims to be just that community for students here.”

Nesmith summed up her feelings for her staff.

“[For them,] it’s not just a job.  It’s also a kind of a community of curious, smart, quirky people, so they have this family of people they come into,” she said.

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Guinness Hula-Hoop Word Record Attempted in Cedar Rapids

Guinness Hula-Hoop Word Record Attempted in Cedar Rapids

Guinness Hula-Hoop Word Record Attempt Made in Cedar Rapids   
Gordie Felger

(Cedar Rapids)—Over 200 area residents gathered Saturday at the Rockwell Collins Sports Park to attempt a new Guinness World Record for the largest number of people participating in a five-minute Hula-Hoop workout.

Brenda Cloud, program manager at the Rockwell Collins Recreation Center, conceived the idea for the Cedar Rapids event as a way to raise money for Friends of Cedar Lake.  Each participant paid a $5 registration fee and got to keep the Hula-Hoop.

Cloud said that she chose to donate to Friends of Cedar Lake, because she “wanted something local—something that involves being outdoors and recreational.”

Charlie “Tuna” Visek, a former board member of Friends of Cedar Lake, addressed the crowd before the attempt.

“The Friends of Cedar Lake are doing a restoration of that whole area [in downtown Cedar Rapids between Coe College and the Cedar River] that’s going to make it better for all of you, for all of your kids,” he said.  “It’s going to make a new park-like setting that we’ll all enjoy and be proud of.”

Molly Barrera of Cedar Rapids and Gabriel Rizzio of Center Point participated in the event together.

“We just thought it would be really interesting to be part of a world record, and also, it’s just fun to hula-hoop,” Barrera said.

Rizzio’s uncle works for Rockwell Collins, but it was a flyer at NewBo City Market that enticed Barrera and him to take part.

Cloud led a brief Hula-Hoop class for all participants who chose to stay after the world record attempt.

North Lanarkshire Leisure LTD with Powerhoop UK/Innertrak LTD (UK) set the current record in Motherwell, Scotland, on March 2, 2013, with 407 participants. While Cloud submitted an application to Guinness World Record for the local event, she aimed primarily to financially benefit a local organization while getting people active. She plans to resubmit this event to Guinness World Record next summer, as this attempt fell short of the number of participants needed to break the current record.

“Hooping can be a fun exercise, even for five minutes,” she said.  “It works your core, and you get a little smile on your face at the same time.”

Cloud said that over $500 was collected for Friends of Cedar Lake.

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Jennifer Boettger, Interim Coe Administrator, Embraces the Performing Arts

Jennifer Boettger, Interim Coe Administrator, Embraces the Performing Arts

Jennifer Boettger, Interim Coe Administrator, Embraces the Performing Arts   
Gordie Felger

Jennifer Boettger outside her McCabe Hall office at Coe College.  Boettger is serving as Coe’s interim director of advancement services until a new director is hired.

(Cedar Rapids)—A quirk of fate altered Jennifer Boettger’s life path at an early age.

Boettger, interim director of advancement services at Coe College, played basketball and volleyball at Harding Junior High School—now Harding Middle School—in Cedar Rapids.

“My mom was a real big athlete,” Boettger said.  “She was a five letter winner and [in the] athlete hall of fame at her alma mater.  I sort of felt the pressure to follow in her footsteps, but just wasn’t feeling it.”

Then a knee injury, which resulted in permanent nerve damage, put an end to her promising athletic career. A friend invited Boettger to help backstage for a school play. This eventually led her to audition, and, in the ninth grade, Boettger appeared in her first stage production, “Babes in Toyland.”

“I knew it was hard on her when I stepped away from athletics,” Boettger said, referring to her mother. “She would say, ‘Well, I have to admit, the seats in the auditorium are more comfortable than the bleachers in the gym.’ It was just sort of her way of saying, ‘It’s OK, Jen, that you changed your course and you’re doing fine arts instead of athletics.’”

Once Boettger got started in drama, her extracurricular focus shifted entirely to theater and choir. Her enthusiasm for performance continued throughout her time at Kennedy High School where she appeared in every stage production, sang in the concert choir and performed with Kennedy’s show choir, Happiness, Inc.

She met Allan Boettger, whom she would later marry, in the Nordic Choir while attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He, too, participated heavily in the performing arts in his western Iowa hometown of Harlan.

After graduating from Luther College, the couple married and started a family.  It was Allan who first broke into local theater, playing multiple roles—including a woman—in the Theater Cedar Rapids production of “Sylvia.”  Jennifer’s community theater involvement also began at TCR where she sang in the pit chorus of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Jennifer Boettget (center) as Paulette with Lauren Galliart as Elle Woods and Michael Rozum as Kyle, the UPS delivery guy in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”  The production was staged at Theatre Cedar Rapids in March 2013.  Photo courtesy of Len Struttmann.

More recently, Boettger’s focus turned from performance to theater production, serving as producer of the Cedar Rapids Follies. In 2014, Follies Producer Jan McCool invited Boettger to assist her. The following year, Boettger became co-producer, and now serves as full producer, which allowed McCool to retire from the position.

Before transitioning to the producer role, Boettger performed in the annual production five or six times over a span of about ten years.

“Now I really, truly enjoy being behind the scenes,” she said. “I don’t have any longing to be on stage for Follies anymore . . . but I am enjoying the production side of things immensely.”

She described her role as producer as being “in charge of the business side of making an artistic production happen. The nuts and bolts and contracts and liability and personnel. I’m very data and detail oriented, but I also have a creative side.”

Boettger likened these qualities to skills that she employs in her position at Coe College. As interim director of advancement services, she oversees the tracking and dissemination of alumni, donor and fundraising information. The department’s duties include keeping alumni and donor information current, and providing constituent information and fundraising figures to the advancement team and to the office of the president.

Previously, she worked in a similar capacity at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. She left Cornell in 2012 to be a stay-at-home mom, a role that she plans to return to once a new director of advancement services is hired at Coe.

Being a parent to two sons—Jordan, 16, and Micah, 14—meant that Boettger and her husband took turns when it came to performing.

“We always used to joke, ‘Gosh, we’re never going to get to do anything together,’” she said.

That changed this past summer when Jason Alberty, director of “As You Like It” at the Classics at Brucemore, invited Boettger and her husband to join the cast. Each played a small part in the Shakespeare comedy, but she considered the invitation a rare honor.

Boettger said that she most enjoys the collaborative aspect of creating art with other people, pointing to TCR’s production of “Sweeney Todd” as her favorite show in that regard.

“I’m an advocate for the arts,” Boettger said. “Just go out and see a show.”